Almost two years ago, we reviewed
the Hercules Game Theater XP. At the time, it was the first sound card to seriously challenge the Sound Blaster Live! on shipping drivers and it earned one of FiringSquad’s highest final verdicts for sound cards.
Thus when Hercules sent us info of their new $80 DigiFire 7.1 and $50 Fortissimo III 7.1 sound cards, our attention was immediately caught. It was not simply the fact that these are the first consumer/gaming sound cards to officially support 7.1 (the Game Theater XP being the first), but Hercules also revealed that a unified driver architecture was being used between these sound cards and the Game Theater XP, meaning that driver quality issues should not be a major factor.
Both of these sound cards use the Cirrus Logic CS4624, the younger sibling of Game Theater XP’s Cirrus Logic CS4630. Though the lower-cost CS4624 is designed only to have the processing horsepower for 4-channel 3D surround gaming (as opposed to a 6-channel performance of the CS4630), the Sensaura MultiDrive HRTF algorithms are only designed for 4 channels in the first place.
In addition, since the additional channels will be used primarily for DVD playback (in which the decoding is done on the host CPU via PowerDVD or WinDVD), the additional power is unnecessary. To achieve 8-channel connectivity, Hercules has given each card dual CS4294 CODECS – the same chips found in the Game Theater XP. The DigiFire 7.1 adds 3 IEEE-1394 ports and a better software bundle.
For gamers on a budget, Hercules has the Muse 5.1 DVD with a retail price of $30, which we will also look at in this article.